First of all: a very sincere—and startled—thanks for everyone’s hilarious contributions to the “Create Your Own Odd-Fish Specialty” contest!
I was bowled over not only by the number of entries, but the consistent excellence. It was very difficult to choose between them. But chose I did! My process of elimination follows.
Off the bat, we got three entries that were quite gross. Now, the book reviewer Lynne Farrell Stover, in VOYA, memorably trashed my novel The Order of Odd-Fish as a mixture of “ridiculousness and depravity” in which characters are “obsessed with bodily functions.” This is an interesting accusation from a woman who once alphabetized her own phlegm, but Lynne Farrell Stover is more or less correct: I am not overly averse to gross humor.
And the disgusting entries of Dame Ruby (studying children who eat their own “rhinoliths”—a euphemism new to me), Dame Tina (studying children created by their father’s earwax) and Anonymous Dawn (the study of what is delicately referred to as “toots”) certainly fall in the tradition of Odd-Fish’s comfort with digestions, innards, brains, and general ickiness. But unfortunately for them, I have turned over a new leaf.
Lynne Farrell Stover and I have been in frequent contact ever since I ribbed her in this blog post a couple weeks ago, and as often happens between a red-blooded man and a red-blooded woman, what was once disdain has blossomed into love, and long story short, we moved in together last week. She says she's going to civilize me! I hotly retort that I'm like the wind, I'm the last American cowboy, I'm a flaming maverick centaur in a zero-gravity bordello—but am I really?
How can I resist Lynne Farrell Stover? When she purses those lips, when she flounces about so enchantingly, when she gives me that come-hither look? Why, maybe she'll "civilize" me after all. Sorry, booger-jokes, earwax-jokes, and fart-jokes—you should've got me last year.
Another worthy entry came from Dame Anita, who proposed to walk the highways of America, studying discarded hubcaps. But surely Dame Anita must know that her proposed project was anticipated, and indeed rendered unnecessary, by the pioneering efforts of Sir Cornelius, over six hundred years ago—before hubcaps even existed? Before America was discovered—before a single hubcap was fabricated—Sir Cornelius had already deduced the location and dimensions of every discarded hubcap in America, using pure unaided reason. For Dame Anita to wander all over the country, empirically gathering data that Sir Cornelius had already divined, six hundred years before the fact, without leaving his armchair, seems to me pointless in the wrong way.
Dame Kelly proposed to study “outdated dance moves with a subspecialty in headbanging.” This is a brilliant idea, and indeed was a strong contender for first prize—if it wasn’t for a single fatal sentence that threw serious doubts of judgment onto Dame Kelly’s project, her aesthetics, and indeed, her alleged soul. See if you can find the flaw:
“I will rent old movies such as Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, and even the B movie Lambada.”
Lambada as a “B movie”? Unforgivable.
Sir Big Plain V proposed to specialize in food with alcohol in them. This seemed to me to be a promising topic: I was looking forward to recipes for proponol pies, for butanol beefsteaks, for formaldehyde frittatas, for isopropyl ice cream. No such luck: Sir Big rambled on endlessly about “Guinness ravioli, Guinness Jell-o, Guinness enchilada soup,” etc.
Memo to Sir Big: most of Sir Alec Guinness has already been drunk, long ago—by myself and some college friends, as it happens, in a youthful prank—rendering your project moot. (Interestingly, the distinguished thespian provided only a mild buzz.)
Sir Rylander promised to study “talking mustaches.” This is a project near and dear to my heart, as I published a short story about a disembodied beard in the Chicago Reader in 2008. Sir Rylander trots out several possible talking mustaches for study—those of his uncle Dieter, of John Waters, of Alex Trebek, and Tom Selleck—but that is precisely the problem.
What discussion of “talking mustaches” can presume to ignore—on a Michigan-based blog, no less—pitcher Rollie Fingers’ legendary trash-talking mustache, which caused such fury to Alan Trammell in a 1982 Tigers-Brewers game that Trammell refused to look at Rollie Fingers’ mustache again—and from that game onward, the livid Trammell kept his eyes shut whenever batting against Fingers? The notorious denouement, when Trammell lopped off Brewers catcher Ned Yost’s head with a blind, wild swing, we must pass over in silence; and accordingly I must pass over Sir Rylander’s entry as good in theory, but does not live up to its potential. (Tasty “Ned Yost heads”—a kind of fried pastry filled with marmalade and steak frites—can still be purchased on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, though many vendors have sadly forgotten the treat’s origins. “Get yer Yosts! Get yer pipin’-hot Yosts!” is a hawker’s cry that will always take me back to childhood memories of afternoon ballgames with my social worker.)
Dame Betty nearly walked away with the prize for her outstanding proposal of researching different kinds of nose-blowing techniques. Her quest to discover more about apocryphal nose-blowing methods tickled me, especially the legendary one which she claims “requires a third nostril to perform”—a line worthy of Douglas Adams. However, Dame Betty goes fatally awry when she claims that a “Ms. Snoseful” of “Sneezeville, South Dakota” blew her nose and found an image of the Holy Mother in her handkerchief.
Dame Betty: I have Google Maps. There is no “Sneezeville, South Dakota.”
There is, however, a “Sneedville, Tennessee” and a “Snellville, Georgia.” And you know what kind of “miracles” they have in those small towns, Dame Betty, you sneering cosmopolitan? How about the daily “miracles” of civic pride, hard work, and clean living? But you wouldn’t understand those, Dame Betty, would you, with your endless cocktail parties, your predatory sensuality, your devil-may-care hedonism—well guess what, Dame Betty—the devil does care, and he’s coming after you and your thoughtless blasphemy. In your whimsies you imagine the Holy Mother in a handkerchief? In my reality I stand before this sign, and say to you:
So much for Dame Betty. On to Lady Liana, whose entry was another near-winner. Her proposed specialty, of “improbable and illogical animals,” was the most purely Oddfishian of the bunch. (Possibly because the category already existed. Dame Delia in The Order of Odd-Fish studies Absurd Animals.) However, Lady Liana puts her own spin on the topic, by inventing a system of classification that can decide whether an animal may logically exist or not. Her goal is to prove, using her system, that most animals in fact don’t actually exist and that we don’t need to worry about them. This would be laudable were it not for this inconvenient fact: Lady Liana is herself a only very clever alpaca. For her project to succeed would, paradoxically, negate her own existence! I cannot allow this to happen. The world would be a poorer place without Lady Liana’s heartwarming alpaca antics. Permission to pursue this specialty is hereby denied—for Lady Liana’s own good.
Go! Run now, and graze in the pampas, my furry alpaca friend! I, as a responsible gaucho, will keep you safe from your alpaca logical paradoxes.
Blogger Tracy Edward Wymer proposed to uncover the truth about lightning bugs’ mating habits and displays of affection. Tracy, I trust you will not be offended if I am rather terse with you. I have struggled for years to overcome my addiction to insect pornography. Please, please, do not mock me.
Sir Jambuku proposed to study the words missing from the very proposal he was submitting. I appreciated the clever, self-referential aspect of this entry! Jokes about recursion are as funny as this joke.
Which leaves us with our winner: Dame Monica, who will formulate a thesis on the things that "should have been." Her entry is worth quoting in full:
"I, Monica, the Muse of afterthoughts, will formulate a thesis on the things that "should have been". I will research statements made by historical and nonhistorical persons about things that were expected to go differently, but didn't. I will then determine alternate timelines for every possible outcome, and depict those timelines in a mural that will cover one side of one of the pyramids of Giza. I will then use that mural to formulate an algorithm for world leaders to use, to make decisions. The algorithm will support decisions made about warmongering, disease control, and inventions of new technology. With this algorithm, decision makers will be able to examine ramifications of decisions made, before they are decided, instead of waiting until afterwards. This algorithm will eventually be mandated for use in all areas of society."
Monica must have known I have that very pyramid in my backyard! I found it, half-sunk in the weeds and mud, when Lynne Farrell Stover and I moved into this run-down shack we now call home. When Lynne Farrell Stover and I first left our respective families and atrociously eloped, setting up our infamous menage in the face of public scandal and furious denunciations in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, it had seemed like very heaven. Why, it was Lynne Farrell Stover and me against the world!
But time is cruel to passion. Now I spend more and more time staring at this inscrutable pyramid of what might-have-been in my backyard, while Lynne Farrell Stover, a Salem Light drooping from her too-red lips, leans out the back door, screeching at me as she woozily swings around her glass of rum-and-Vernors.
"Why d'yuh spend all day starin' at that damn pyramid, haw? Whuddabout me?" she slurs, stumbling down the steps toward me. I avert my eyes. What have I done with my life? I bury my head in the timelines and algorithms of Monica's prophetic pyramid. My tears stain its theoretically limitless possibilities, mathematically worked out to the millionth decimal . . . and yet now, I am that decimal, a forgotten dot lost in the jostling fates of countless others, my unique, beautiful destiny thrown away for a couple weeks of passion with Lynne Farrell Stover—and all because I wanted to be "civilized"!
Oh, Monica, if you had only shown me this pyramid earlier! Oh, merciless fate, to grind my nose into this obelisk of infinite possibilities, at the very moment my actual life narrows to the intolerable, eternal dot of Lynne Farrell Stover!
For teaching me a crucial truth about myself, and life—and for making me realize why I must leave Lynne Farrell Stover now, and return in penitent humility to my beautiful wife and darling child—I award Monica top honors in the Odd-Fish specialty contest. Thank you, Monica!
Monica, to claim your prize email Mr. James Kennedy at email@example.com. Send along your address and the first five pages of a manuscript you'd like critiqued. Congratulations!
(Note to James: Although we share a last name, Monica and I are in no way related. Just wanted to preempt any suspicions of impropriety.)
Thanks again to all who participated. Let's do it again some time.